I once heard a story from a musician, in which he was telling a story he heard through a musician buddy, about another musician that likely neither of them knew (assuming the subject of the story is real at all).
In this story, the front man of a popular band was looking over the crowd which gathered for that night’s show. He was exhausted from months on the road, bitter to the state of the music industry, and overall weary of singing the same songs time and again. Yet, when he called upon his stage persona, he did so with enthusiasm and purpose. When he presented himself to the thousands of people before him, jumping and hollering along with the words he sang, he did not let his bitterness influence his performance, and for quite a simple reason:
He believed in the message of his song, and every single one of the ten-thousand voices in that sea of faces were singing for a different reason. A unique and personal reason.
I like this story, because it acknowledges how we internalize narratives and meanings independently from one another. Even if the overall narrative leaves little to the realm of subjectivity, the experiences we bring to the table will be rife with our own specific purposes and struggles.
“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”
The sole identifying emotional word in that famous Journey intro is ‘lonely.’ If you fulfill the ‘small town girl’ aspect and feel lonely, this automatically applies to you. Yet, you could be a small town girl, and be lonely for a completely different reason from the first person who identifies with the track. Even more, you don’t need to identify as anything, and can simply appreciate the somber tone of the song on the mere grounds of acknowledging that yes, the world is lonely. So on, ad infinitum, until near-most everyone has a different purpose for lifting their voices in harmony.
Writers have a similar power (yet, entirely different, as music is it’s own beast). When we write, it’s in the ultimate hope of submerging the head-space of the reader into our world, our rhythm, our timeline. If we are successful, especially in characterization, then we create a similar effect to the singer on the stage.
Think of your favorite character. The reason they’re your favorite is likely different from why they’re someone else’s favorite. Even if your surface-level reasons are the same, the nuance and personal element behind them can vary infinitely.
This is why we we sing, write, and create. Because art is the only thing capable of this, this relationship between expression and perception.